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The case of Peter Galbraith

Michael Rubin has flagged another Norwegian story that was lost in the holiday weekend with the news of Obama’s Nobel Prize: Peter W. Galbraith, Democratic Party activist and long a champion of Kurdish rights, secretly held stakes in a large Iraqi Kurdish oil field while advising U.S. policy toward the Kurds. Rubin pointed to Reidar Visser’s translation of the story from Norway’s main business daily Dagens Næringsliv.
Today the story reaches the pages of the Boston Globe. The Globe reports:

In late 2002, as the Bush administration began preparing to invade Iraq, Galbraith worked as a professor at the Naval War College and gave advice to then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz on how to handle problems in Kurdistan. But within months of the invasion, Galbraith left the US government and became one of its critics.
In speeches, meetings with US officials, and articles in the New York Review of Books, Galbraith said Kurds should be given maximum autonomy and should have the right to develop their own oil fields, free of control by Iraq’s central government.
But the same time, Galbraith was quietly entering into business deals that gave him a financial stake in the positions he was advocating. In late 2003 and early 2004, he worked as a paid consultant to Kurdish politicians, advising them on legal language they should seek to insert into Iraqi laws to keep future oil development under their control. Later, in 2005, he advised them again on an unpaid basis.
On June 23, 2004, Galbraith and his son, Andrew, registered a Delaware partnership called Porcupine, which entered into a business arrangement with DNO, a Norwegian oil company, according to company documents and a statement recently circulated by Porcupine.
Two days after Porcupine was established, the Kurdistan Regional Government signed a contract to develop Kurdistan’s first oil field with DNO, ushering in a potential economic windfall for the semiautonomous region. DNO eventually struck oil, and currently owns a 55 percent stake in the Tawke field.
But Iraq’s central government has refused to accept the legality of its agreement, creating a heated standoff that has stopped the flow of oil from Kurdistan in recent days.

In his NYRB essays, Galbraith not only argued that Iraq would fall apart, but advocated a tripartite division of the country. “When he advised United States officials on the Iraqi constitution,” Michael Rubin writes in a message to me, “he urged a strong federalism which would give the Kurds, if not eventual independence, then complete autonomy over oil resources. He did not reveal that he stood to gain tens of millions of dollars if this became the policy of the United States.” Michael adds: “Remember, much of his advocacy of Iraqi federalism came amidst an Iraqi constitutional crisis over how Iraqi oil resources would be treated.”
As a NYRB subscriber who read Galbraith’s essays in the magazine and took them seriously, I can speak for myself. I would like to have known of Galbraith’s monetary stake in his analysis. Unlikely as it might seem, I bet this is one point on which the editors of NYRB and Paul Wolfowitz would agree.
UPDATE: In a subsequent message this morning, Michael notes today’s story in the Norwegian newspaper and adds:

I was the note-taker in Galbraith’s meetings with Wolfowitz (I remember well, because Peter managed to lose is car keys in the Pentagon which ended up requiring a search across the building and in the DepSecDef’s office after hours–we ended up finding them in his car door). Galbraith was one of dozens who requested meetings and gave advice (Gareth Evans, the head of the ICG was another). It was a credit to Wolfowitz that he would meet with people from across the political spectrum and generally kept an open door. It is reflective of Ambassador Galbraith to believe that a meeting or two with a government official made him an advisor.

Although we have yet to hear from the editors of the NYRB, I think my last point above stands. Michael also comments on the latest developments in this story here at NRO’s Corner.

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